New York congressman's ex-girlfriend pleads guilty to campaign finance charges

A Texas woman romantically linked to indicted U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges she lined up straw donors for his 2010 campaign but then denied through her lawyer that Grimm knew anything about it.

Diana Durand entered the plea a day after Grimm appeared in the same Brooklyn courthouse to hear a judge set a December trial date for his tax evasion case, charges stemming from a two-year federal investigation of his fundraising.

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Durand, 48, admitted she had asked "two friends" to make $12,000 contributions to Grimm and another politician and then secretly reimbursed them as a way to circumvent campaign contribution limits.

Outside court, defense attorney Stuart Kaplan told reporters that Durand came under scrutiny of federal authorities solely because she once dated Grimm and that she was never in a position to cooperate against him. He said email and other evidence turned over to the defense supported her contention that she acted alone.

"There's absolutely nothing that would suggest that the congressman and my client were complicit in each other's activities," said Kaplan, who once worked in the same FBI office as Grimm when both were agents. "Ms. Kaplan pleaded guilty because she thought it was in her best interests to resolve this case and close this chapter of her life and move on."

Durand, a single mother from Houston who works in the oil industry, faces up to a year behind bars at sentencing on Feb. 20. She declined to comment as she left court.

The indictment against Grimm alleges the tax fraud began in 2007 after he retired from the FBI and began investing in a Manhattan eatery called Healthalicious. It accuses the Staten Island Republican of under-reporting more than $1 million in wages and receipts to evade payroll, income and sales taxes, in part by paying immigrant workers, some of them in the country illegally, in cash.

Grimm, 44, made headlines in January after telling a local cable TV news station reporter he wanted to throw him off a balcony in the Capitol for asking about the campaign finance inquiry.

Grimm, who's free on $400,000 bond, has vowed to stay in Congress and run for re-election while fighting the tax case.